Margot Kidder 10/17/1948-05/13/2018

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The remarkable actress Margot Kidder has died. While she’s most famous for her Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve’s Superman she endeared herself to some of us with her performances in then boyfriend Brian De Palma’s Sisters and Paul Mazursky’s Willie and Phil, not to mention as Zazel Pierce, the exchange student who falls in love with Dublin City manure collector Gene Wilder in Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx.  Appealing and bright, she fizzed with energy and quickness on the screen in her Seventies and Eighties heyday and was an environmental and anti-war activist. She married a trio of interesting men:  author Thomas McGuane, the father of her daughter;  actor John Heard (for a few days);  and director Philippe de Broca. She made more incursions into TV in recent years but in the main got on with just living, in her own words. RIP.

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Michael Anderson 01/30/1920-04/25/2018

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Not too many directors see their films re-released sixty-three years after their first screening:  however last week in my local cinema, The Dam Busters (1955) was trailed ahead of its 17 May 2018 commemorative re-release celebrating the 75th birthday of the Royal Air Force.  That’s how good it is, even if Barnes Wallis thought Michael Redgrave was too handsome for the role. A few days after seeing that trailer, the death of the film’s director Michael Anderson was announced. He was ninety-eight years old. The funny thing is, if you’re asked to name a British director with that surname everyone comes up with Lindsay (no relation).  Yet Michael Anderson also created films that linger long in the memory, indicative of the culture and resonant long beyond their original impact:  Around the World in Eighty Days and The Quiller Memorandum and Logan’s Run (co-starring his son, Michael Jr.) are the best known and are visionary works in utterly diverse ways. He inherited The Wreck of the Mary Deare starring Gary Cooper when Hitchcock decided not to do it and then worked with Psycho writer Joseph Stefano on The Naked Edge, Cooper’s last film. He was equally good at political drama (Shake Hands With The Devil) as melodrama – was Natalie Wood ever more beautiful than in All the Fine Young CannibalsThe Dam Busters was paid due homage in the attack on The Death Star in Star Wars and who could pay better tribute? Born into a family of actors, he began as a production runner in Elstree when he was 16 years old and forged his way ahead as assistant to Noël Coward, David Lean and Anthony Asquith, to become a director (and writer) himself in 1949 with Private Angelo, starring Peter Ustinov who co-directed in their third collaboration. He developed a strong visual signature in his frequent work with cinematographer Erwin Hillier who had worked on Lang’s M at Ufa in Berlin where Anderson spent part of his childhood.  I first noticed his name as a kid when I watched TV’s The Martian Chronicles:  he loved the sci fi genre because it opened his imagination and the visual possibilities were limitless even if the budget for Millennium made for a serious let-down. He made the eco-friendly answer to Jaws in Orca:  Killer Whale and the promotional material for big-budget Nessie was out there before the project was cancelled. He did a number of TV movies in the Eighties and Nineties and it is perhaps a kind of lateral/literary joke that the man who made Pope Joan then adapted Pope John Paul II’s play The Jeweller’s Shop. He was the oldest living Academy Award Best Director nominee and his autobiography is due to be released soon. What a run. What a near-century! We salute you.

Milos Forman 02/18/1932-04/14/2018

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The death has taken place of Jan Tomas aka Miloš Forman, whose arresting anti-Soviet New Wave Czech films (as both writer and director) brought him to the attention of the world in the Sixties. His dyspeptic view of society and politics in films like The Firemen’s Ball made him a predictably iconclastic commentator on American life in Taking Off, his transatlanic debut which also exposed his taste for classic comedy and nearly caused him a total nervous breakdown when it was a commercial failure. He did everything he could to remain in the US. His desire to make Hair would have to wait a decade when the rights were finally acquired. Paired with Jack Nicholson’s powerhouse performance his ability to tailor a zesty confrontational ‘message’ film was encapsulated in the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a masterful adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel and a tribute too to Michael Douglas’ producing talent. It bears tragedy and humour with equal weight, appropriately considering Forman was at his lowest ebb when he was offered the job. It won the Big 5 Oscars. With Amadeus, one of his Eighties literary adaptations, he was practically an opera conductor in a film which is satanic in its majesty. His taste for salty sociocultural appraisal came to the fore again in the Nineties with portraits of Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman (Man in the Moon), helping to craft memorable performances about very problematic and eccentric public figures. He never lost his spirit of rebellion and resisted the urge to wallow in bitterness despite having seen his parents taken to concentration camps where they were murdered by the Nazis. Rest in peace.

Susan Anspach 11/23/1942-04/02/2018

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Susan Anspach has died aged 75. Extravagantly gifted, likened to both Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, she was a crucial female actor in the New Hollywood and her very first appearance in one of the great Hal Ashby’s films, The Landlord, is what gives that film much of its kinetic fizz. She had come of age in the Sixties and earned her hippie credentials in the off-Broadway production of Hair. She was part of the group of actors like Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman making their way in New York at that time. Her role in Five Easy Pieces opposite Jack Nicholson cemented her reputation and really created her legendary screen stardom.  Play It Again Sam proved her comic chops but over the years the roles were not good enough for her particular brand of performance and she mostly played in TV films and mini-series like Space and Yellow Rose. She didn’t stop working but she should have been better cast – she needed a writer who understood just how far she could go. She made a fabulous comeback in Montenegro (1981) for Dušan Makavejev. Unique and feisty, complex, unconventional and brilliant, she was unforgettable. Rest in peace.

Isao Takahata 10/29/1935-04/05/2018

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The death has taken place of Isao Takahata, the co-founder of legendary Japanese anime Studio Ghibli. He was 82.  Probably most acclaimed for Grave of the Fireflies, he was instrumental in bringing the artform to a global audience. He began working in the field at the Toei Studio in 1959 and eventually teamed up with arch rival Hayao Miyazaki in 1985 to make hugely influential and serious-minded films like the ecological story Pom Poko. This multi-talented auteur was a writer, producer and director (but not an animator).  His tendency towards realism balanced Ghibli’s more fantasy-oriented material, focussing on the quotidian and normal activities, bringing his literary education to bear on the world of the comic book and elevating its ambitions in the process. Rest in peace.

Philip Kerr 22 February 1956-23 March 2018

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On Friday morning last when I ordered my copy of the latest Bernie Gunther novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts, I wasn’t to know that the author Philip Kerr had just died. I first encountered Kerr at a literary festival 20 years ago when his action thriller Gridiron had hit the shelves and it seemed as though his particular brand of writing was coming good. He was a witty interviewee and highly entertaining about the world of books and the media in general. In fact the much-trumpeted films of this and other novels never materialised and Kerr came back to his Berlin police detective, Gunther, and amid his other series, including children’s fantasies and soccer thrillers, he created one of the best fictional characters you could possibly imagine. Against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, World War Two, and the immediate post-war era, Gunther plods through the evil that men do with the laconic wit and toughness that distinguished Philip Marlowe, remaking the overlooked literary thriller into a positively Greene-ian affair all over again. Kerr  spoke with the same kind of mordant wit about cinematic development hell and meetings with important stars like Cruise and De Niro that peppers all his writing. His insights into character detail no doubt contributed to his former career as a gossip columnist for the London Evening Standard, lawyer, academic and advertising copywriter. I am beyond sad at this dreadful early death for a writer whose every word I savoured. May he rest in peace.

Hubert de Givenchy 02/21/1927-03/10/2018

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Renowned French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy has died at the age of 91.  He became world famous after a certain actress called Hepburn called to his atelier. He was expecting Katharine, he got Audrey. She chose his dresses for her role as the ugly duckling turned beautiful society swan in Sabrina:  Edith Head took the credit. Audrey Hepburn was his muse, his friend and his greatest model. His most famous look was the Little Black Dress that came into its own in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hepburn was the inspiration for his first perfume, L’Interdit. As elegant in person as he made women look and feel, he was obsessed with Balenciaga and his family relented in his pursuit of design over their preference for the study of law. He established a global marque and an ongoing brand that continues to create and innovate. He made an enduring silhouette for a true icon – perhaps the most famous in all of cinema – and influenced the co-dependence of the worlds of fashion and film, intertwining fit and fantasy, dream and design, forever.

His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality – Audrey Hepburn

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